Arizona Bill That Criminalized Some Abortions Defeated in Legislature

AP Photo/Matt York

By Lorraine Longhi

April 7, 2021

The bill could still come back at some point in the legislative session.

A bill that would have made it a felony to perform abortions based on genetic abnormalities was narrowly defeated in the Arizona legislature Wednesday.

The move comes after Arizona lawmakers, physicians, and community advocates vocally opposed the legislation in recent weeks.

Senate Bill 1457, which would have also fined medical professionals who failed to report the abortions, failed in a 14-16 vote in the Arizona Senate.

In emotional testimony opposing the bill last Thursday, Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Phoenix, spoke on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives about her own abortion, in an effort to “normalize another facet of reproductive health.”

“When I found out I was pregnant about two years ago, instead of joy, I felt fear,” Hernandez said. “I felt fear because I did not have health insurance. I felt fear because I was barely making ends meet. I felt fear because I was raped around that time and I did not know who the father was.”

Hernandez spoke in opposition to SB 1457, which was just one in a slate of bills introduced by Arizona Republican lawmakers this session that would restrict or criminalize abortion.

Sen. Nancy Barto, the sponsor of the bill, said SB 1457 was intended to protect Arizona’s most vulnerable, in particular, fetuses that are diagnosed with genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome.

“I’ve been deeply saddened to see pre-born children with genetic abnormalities, especially Down syndrome, bregularly discriminated against and singled out for abortion based solely on thieir disability,” Barto said in a hearing on the bill last month. 

But Hernandez said Arizona lawmakers were attempting to legislate women’s bodies, in addition to pointing out the disparities of care experienced by women of color, who accounted for the majority of abortions in Arizona in 2019

We don’t seek (abortions) because we hate children. We seek them because we are scared to bring them into this world, because in some cases we are poor, in some cases we do not have healthcare, in some cases we are discriminated against, in some cases we are assaulted, and in some cases, it is all of the above,” Hernandez said.

Arizona Bill That Criminalized Some Abortions Defeated in Legislature
Arizona Legislature

Republican Lawmaker Votes ‘No’

The bill failed by a vote of 14-16, after Republican Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, voted against the bill, and against his own party lines.

On Wednesday, Pace said he took issue with language in the bill, which said abortions performed due to “life-threatening physical conditions” under “reasonable medical judgment” would be excluded. 

Pace said that the language in the bill would require a jury to deliberate as to what reasonable medical judgment was. “We are asking a panel of lay individuals to determine medical judgement, to play the board of medicine. That’s a large reach,” Pace said. 

“We can pass a bill that we know has errors and we can hope that they will get fixed through the promises of some very good legislators who keep their promises…or we don’t pass them,” Pace said, before ultimately voting no.

Pace’s vote prompted Barto to also vote no in order to bring the bill back at some point during the session. Barto apologized for not not convincing her colleagues to trust her.

“I’d ask each of you to reconsider your vote on this bill, and choose life,” Barto said before voting no.

Lawmakers, Physicians, and Community Advocates Speak Out In Recent Weeks

A little over a year ago, Morgan Tucker was pregnant with twins when her doctor told her that her son’s critical heart defect presented high risks for him, his twin sister, and the mother. She and her husband made the difficult decision to pursue selective reduction, the practice of reducing the number of fetuses in a multiple pregnancy.

Tucker’s doctor ultimately had to search across the country for a facility that could perform the procedure, before Tucker underwent the procedure in Los Angeles.

“We knew under the circumstances that this was clearly the safest choice we could be making for our family, though it was the most difficult, traumatic, and emotionally painful decision of our lives,” Tucker wrote in a column for The Copper Courier.

Tucker planned to tell her story last month as the legislature began hearing testimony on SB 1457, but said she was not given the chance to speak in the House Judiciary committee.

But Tuesday, Tucker told her story outside the Arizona Capitol as community members, advocates, and lawmakers, including Hernandez, spoke at a press conference to oppose the bill.

Tucker said there was a piece of SB 1457 in every chapter of her pregnancy and “birth nightmare.” “If access to reproductive care is restricted even further, as this bill would ensure, I don’t even want to imagine what the next expectant mother in a situation such as mine will experience,” she said.

The version of the bill deliberated by the Senate Wednesday excluded women undergoing an abortion from criminal prosecution, but it would have made the penalty for abortion providers a Class 6 felony, which can carry a minimum sentence of 6 months in prison.

Dr. DeShawn Taylor, a gynecologist with Desert Star Family Planning in Phoenix, said at Tuesday’s press conference that Arizona lawmakers were “criminalizing doctors like me for providing abortion care.”

Tucker told The Copper Courier Wednesday that the vote felt like a victory—for now. 

She commended Pace for his vote and courage, but said that other legislation that could criminalize abortion was still a concern in the coming weeks.

Coming forward with her story took an emotional toll, but Tucker said she felt called to share in an effort to preserve the reproductive healthcare rights of all Arizonans.

“If I had to go through it, some of these bad actors should at least have to hear it,” Tucker said. “This is a medical decision that should be between a doctor and a patient and anyone else the patient may choose. Whatever else I can do to be helpful and preserve people’s rights, I’m happy to.”

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 480-243-4086.


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